Jan 30, 2020


Event Description 

On 24-25 January 2020, the Centre for Japanese Research (CJR) at UBC’s Institute of Asian Research (IAR) hosted an international workshop to discuss Japan’s strategic repositioning in the global system amidst rising global tensions. Specific attention was given to Japan’s strategic leadership demonstrated in regional and international trade diplomacy, global financial governance, quality infrastructure, environmental governance, as well as the Free and Open Indo Pacific (FOIP), particularly since 2016.   


As the world’s third largest economy and a powerful security broker in Asia, Japan is uniquely positioned to influence a broad range of complex policy issues. Concerns about China’s ambitious foreign policy agenda (ie., Belt and Road Initiative) and questions about the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from multilateral initiatives (ie., Comprehensive and Progressive Transpacific Partnership Agreement- CPTPP), have created a historic window of opportunity for Japan to bolster its global prestige as a middle-ranking power. For liberal democracies like Canada which are caught in between a great-power rivalry involving China and the United States, understanding Japan’s foreign policy decisions, and more importantly, the grand strategy behind them is imperative.     

VSIR Thinking Points

  • In the current environment of geopolitical and geoeconomic uncertainty, it is important that Canada continue to engage with Japan on a bilateral and multilateral basis. Given that Canada and Japan have enjoyed diplomatic relations for 90 years, there are no shortage of opportunities to strengthen and deepen trans-Pacific arrangements. For example, Canada and Japan are both members of the G7, G20, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Asian Development Bank (ADB), International Monetary Fund (IMF), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).   
  • Ensuring peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region is contingent on sustained diplomatic, human capital, and infrastructure investments, both locally and nationally. Lacking “hard” power projection capabilities to influence the strategic environment, Canada must leverage its existing soft power resources (ie., knowledge diplomacy, quality infrastructure, organizational learning) and commit to building new tools of economic statecraft (ie., city-to-city diplomacy, human-centred artificial intelligence, pandemic threat preparedness). Additionally, Canada will have to scale-up its capacity to forge strategic partnerships and alliances (ie., energy security, managed migration) in the Indo-Pacific region especially if accelerated climate action becomes part of the “new normal” in a make-or-break decade (2020-2030).      
  • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been particularly influential as a practitioner of economic statecraft and strategic hedging, notwithstanding the bilateral tensions between Japan and South Korea. In addition to establishing a cooperative framework with Australia, India, and the United States (the “Quad”) designed to mitigate the security risks posed by China’s expansionary ambitions, the Japanese Prime Minister has effectively used infrastructure diplomacy (Free and Open Indo Pacific) to engage with China in a spirit of “responsible competition.” A strategic question facing Canada is how to build the mission-critical capabilities (ie., urban soft power advantage, talent mobility) that it will need to sustain its status as a global middle-ranking power long after Shinzo Abe has left office.    

Concluding Remarks 

Canada’s excessive economic and security interdependence on the United States has left it vulnerable to unexpected developments in the so-called liberal international order. Where Canada has remained slow in responding to the disruptive forces which dominate the media headlines, Japan continues to exercise bold and innovative leadership. By working collaboratively with Japan to strengthen governance structures and deepen mutually shared interests, Canada can enhance its own long-term security and prosperity, setting an example for both middle-ranking powers and liberal democracies in the Indo-Pacific region.      

Agenda and Speaker Bios: